The tragic number of deaths from the misuse of drugs reached a record high two years ago and the new figures for the pandemic year, due to be published on Friday, are widely predicted to be worse.
Last December it was revealed 1,264 Scots had lost their lives to drugs in 2019 – a 6 per cent increase on 2018 and more than double the number of deaths in 2014. The statistics marked Scotland out as the worst country in Europe for drugs deaths, with the tally of lives lost three-and-a-half times higher than in England and Wales.
The figures prompted Nicola Sturgeon to sack her public health minister Joe FitzPatrick and create a new minister for drugs policy role, filled by former Cabinet minister Angela Constance.
However, the death toll has risen steadily since 2007 to a total of 9,324 in 2019, while the Scottish Government cut £47 million from the funding of drugs and alcohol addiction services.
Ahead of the publication of the latest figures, the Scottish Conservatives said the problem would continue to “spiral” unless “bold action” was taken.
The party’s drugs policy spokesperson, Sue Webber, said: “This week, drug deaths under the SNP will pass 10,000 people. Behind every one of those deaths is a broken family grieving the loss of a loved one.
“The government should be ashamed of this grim milestone, as should all of us. The drug death crisis affects every generation of Scots and people all over the country.
“But the lack of bold action in response is galling. The government have introduced new standards that are meaningless unless enforceable and enshrined in law. Campaigners are clear that without teeth, they will achieve very little.”
The Conservatives have said they will introduce a Right to Recovery Bill that would enshrine in law that people can access the treatment they need, including a residential rehabilitation place.
Scotland’s drugs policy minister Angela Constance said she would give the Conservatives' Bill “proper consideration” when it was published, and admitted Scotland was suffering “a terrible toll from drug deaths, leaving families grieving and in pain”.
She said: “My focus is on taking action now and delivering new investment to improve services and save lives.
“In the weeks and months to come this might mean we have to take actions that are unpalatable to some, but given the scale of loss we have seen in recent years I will do whatever I possibly can to save more lives.”
She pointed to an additional £250m over five years to improve and increase access to services, investment of £100m on residential rehabilitation and £4m to fund Medication Assisted Treatment standards to ensure drug-users receive help the day they ask for it “regardless of where they live”.
Ms Constance also said they would widen access to the overdose-reversing drug naloxone in partnership with Police Scotland and the Scottish Ambulance Service.
She said: “Getting people into the treatment and recovery that is right for them at the right time is at the core of our national mission to save and improve lives.”